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21 August 2014

Wabi-sabi - a reminder

I've been thinking a lot about wabi-sabi this year. If you've never heard of the term, it's a Japanese concept about being comfortable with imperfection. I'm very close friends with imperfection and have been all my life but as I grow older, I see it in almost everything I do and in all the beauty that surrounds me - including my family and grand sons. Nothing is perfect and it seems to me that if you strive for perfection, you'll be disappointed more often than not. I don't want to spend time being disappointed when I can just as easily be accepting and even look for wabi-sabi and celebrate it, just like the Japanese do.

The kitchen on my wall.
The kitchen - a print of the original.

A friend of mine, Gerri, who lives in France and who I met through this blog, sent me a petit point tapestry of Carl Larsson's The Kitchen. Carl Larsson was a Swedish painter (1853 - 1919) and is a favourite of mine, has been since I discovered him when I lived in Germany many years ago. The Kitchen is the depiction of a young girl with a toddler, possibly her sister, in their Swedish kitchen. The older girl is churning butter and the little one is watching her, possibly knowing that one day it will be her job to do that for the family. On the sideline a wood stove holds simmering soup pots, a tiny white cat is almost out of sight, the washing up sits beside a wash bowl and the curtain blows softly in the breeze. And it is that curtain that gets me every time. Little things.

When Gerri sent it to me she said it had been sitting on the wall in her kitchen for many years and now she wanted me to have it. She explained she'd never finished it and if I wanted to, to go ahead. Well, I didn't want to finish it off because to me, it held the history of Gerri and her kitchen just the way it was. I wanted the tapestry to be what it was, not what it was supposed to be. It was more interesting to me as an artefact the way it was. It now hangs on my kitchen wall. Authenticity framed, captured under glass, a wabi-sabi masterpiece. A reminder.

Also in that frame I placed a letter from Gerri, in an envelop with French stamps, and a tiny note on the back of the frame asking: "do you know what this is? Blog 21 August 2014" I suspect that when I die, my family will go through all these things and I hope they'll discover what it is and keep it as their own reminder.  

In her wonderfully descriptive explanation of Wabi-sabi - the art of imperfectionRobyn Griggs Lawrence,  says: 

Broadly, wabi-sabi is everything that today’s sleek, mass-produced, technology-saturated culture isn’t. It’s flea markets, not shopping malls; aged wood, not swank floor coverings; one single morning glory, not a dozen red roses. Wabi-sabi understands the tender, raw beauty of a gray December landscape and the aching elegance of an abandoned building or shed. It celebrates cracks and crevices and rot and all the other marks that time and weather and use leave behind. To discover wabi-sabi is to see the singular beauty in something that may first look decrepit and ugly.

Wabi-sabi reminds us that we are all transient beings on this planet—that our bodies, as well as the material world around us, are in the process of returning to dust. Nature’s cycles of growth, decay, and erosion are embodied in frayed edges, rust, liver spots. Through wabi-sabi, we learn to embrace both the glory and the melancholy found in these marks of passing time.

I guess that says it all and also reminds me why I've been thinking about it more as I age. I think that when I die I'll be a case study in wabi-sabi. And I have to tell you I'd rather go out as a frayed edged, grey haired, spectacled, wabi-sabi grandma than anything else. It comforts me knowing that the history of things, and of people,  plays an significant part in what we are and who we become.



29 comments:

  1. Lovely and so true. When we enjoy and embrace the imperfect we embrace life itself. Before I always called it eclectic, which I still will, but Wabi-Sabi is very playful and fun.

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  2. Oh. My. Goodness. This is amazing. How has this term not come across my path before now?! This concept is deep in my life, but I never had a word for it. I'd use the words simple or humble, but that is not always the same thing. Thank you!

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  3. Beautiful. Thank you for this, dear Rhonda. xxx

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  4. What lovely post, and I adore the tapestry

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  5. I enjoyed this post so much this morning that I put a link up on the farm stay facebook page to this post so that more people could go to your blog and read it. A lovely post, Rhonda.

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    1. Wow, a Facebook share. I don't think I've had one of those before. Thanks Kim.

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    2. I found your blog through a friend's Facebook link to your blog, almost 4 years ago. Kathy.

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  6. I have especially enjoyed reading your blog post today. It's an interesting concept and really touched me.
    I've been reading about the fascination of un-finished artwork recently, my mother left me a piece of unfinished embroidery she had been working on all through my childhood. It's a rather large parrot. I take it out occasionally. Maybe it's time to get it framed.

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  7. Beautiful post, Rhonda.

    I think about this concept all the time, as my 1890's cottage is still in the process of renovation. At times it's frustrating that it's not all fresh and finished. It amazes me the number of times that someone visits my home and says' wow, this is absolutely gorgeous', even though most of the floorboards haven't been done, and the architraves in most rooms still have very old, chipped aubergine coloured paint on them. My ex-partner wouldn't buy me a beautiful rug I wanted for my birthday - she said the floorboards really should be done first. If anything, I think the aged and battered floorboards would have highlighted the beauty in the new rug, and in fact I find them beautiful in their own right - I may never get them polished! (but I will keep an eye out on ebay for the rug)

    Madeleine.x

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    1. Hi Madeleine. I'm sorry to read of your ex. I hope you're okay. Take care, love. xx

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  8. Oh wow I just love the term Wabi-sabi. I'm a go getter, just do it! kinda girl. Perfection is not what I am for - but nor is shabby - more a work in progress girl doing the best I can at each and every step.

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  9. Hi Ronda...thanks for your post today. And, I love the word Wabi-sabi. I had never heard the term before. My DH and I celebrate our perfect imperfections (might be terminology I got from you Ronda).... You know, wrinkles, tummy, wobbling arms, spots on our skin, etc. After all, at our age we should have some things to show the passing of time....hehe. Have a great day, we are traveling in this beautiful country of ours, currently in Port Lincoln, South Australia. Had a grey sort of day yesterday which we enjoyed for what it was and woke up today to sunshine.......Wabi-sabi

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  10. The Islamic religion also has this concept, although I can't remember the term they use. I believe I read about it in George Negus' book about Islam and democracy. The concept was that only Allah can be perfect, mankind strives towards it but cannot achieve it. In fact, in the beautifully sewn traditional carpets in which the artisans took such pride, a mistake would deliberately be made.

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    1. Rose, the Shakers do a similar thing with their furniture, they deliberately make a mistake for the same reason. I think quite a few religions hold this belief.

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  11. I love this concept! Having always adored things that were flawed, this made me smile because it makes so much sense. Why be perfect? There is no pleasure in that, is there? When I was in home ec a million years ago, my teacher used to say about something done not quite right, "Well, it won't be noticed from a galloping horse!" Somehow, even though there were no horses around, that no one would notice the mistake! Wabi-sabi, ya'll!

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  12. At first I thought Wabi Sabi was a type of horseradish but then I caught on. The simplest of things are the most beautiful - only nature can come up with perfection.

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  13. "Wabi-sabi understands the tender, raw beauty of a gray December landscape and the aching elegance of an abandoned building or shed. It celebrates cracks and crevices and rot and all the other marks that time and weather and use leave behind."

    Just gorgeous. I have a special love for wabi-sabi, especially in floral arrangement. I also apply this to my body, especially after having a child. There's a certain beauty in the stretch marks that tell the story of the child/ren you have carried.

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  14. Rhonda thank you for bringing the concept of wabi-sabi to a wider audience. I have a few books on the subject, including the one your quote came from which I think is easy to read but profound, particularly for those just emerging from the 'treadmill'. Embracing wabi-sabi is a beautiful gentle and practical way to approach our fast paced world, especially when some of us are learning to look after and love our homes again after working frantically to pay for them.

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    1. Thanks Fran. I have tried to find Wabi-Sabi: The Art Of Imperfection but it seems to be out of print. Where did you buy your copy?

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    2. Most of my books I buy either on ebay or Amazon (buy used section). The Robyn Griggs Lawrence book that is available and in print at the moment is - 'Simply Imperfect - revisiting the wabi-sabi house', available on Amazon. It's a gorgeous book with sepia toned images and talks about wabi-sabi in the real world. Also has a great resource section in the back.

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  15. I have always been so wabi-sabi though most of the people I know think I am a perfectionist. I have never understood why except I do like a job well done. I like quality over quantity but it doesn't have to be any where near perfect....

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  16. Keeping things in your home that are meaningful....that's what it's all about. We didn't get in first round at the Arana Hills Library talk however a few days later it's confirmed my friend and I are in (YEHHHH) We are both excited and we will come say hello and hopefully you can pose with us for a photo. Regards Kathy A, Brisbane

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    1. The Arana Hills Library is adding another 10 - 15 places, so that's good. Yes, Hanno will be there too, so we can both be in your photo.

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  17. What a lovely post. We have never striven for perfection (except I like to do invisible mends on fabric that the moth has found first!) We are happy to accept something with a chip or a crack or a piece broken off - my kitchen beams are full of "dented" jugs which I love and hide the damaged side from sight. We deal in antiques and collectables so Fleamarkets are us! Everything we deal in is pre-loved and often with little imperfections - the almost invisible stain on a teacloth is where you sit the teapot, surely?! But so many people want something 100 years old and in "as new" condition . . .

    I had never heard of wabi-sabi before, so thank you for enlightenment.

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  18. Such a beautiful post, and thanks for sharing the "wabi-sabi" concept with me. And I have to say, I just love that piece of artwork, as well as the accompanying rather impressive piece of needlework. My piece of grounding for the day. Thanks Rhonda, Sonia.

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  19. Thank you for such a beautiful post. It makes my imperfections not a blemish but something beautiful and unique.

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  20. Ad my late M-i-L would say, a blind man would be happy to see it. Wonderful concept.

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